Nevada Eyes Mandatory Ratio Of Nurses To Patients

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A Nevada legislative panel is considering mandatory ratios of nurses to patients at hospitals - a proposal being fought by hospitals.

Assemblywoman Ellen Koivisto, D-Las Vegas, who chairs a subcommittee studying the plan, said Thursday that many nurses favor the idea. She added that the state's goal is to help with patient care and that should be the objective of all the parties.

Bill Welch, Nevada Hospital Association president, said there are such ratios in critical areas such as in emergency rooms and birthing centers - but a mandatory ratio for hospitals overall could prove too costly. He added there's no data to show that imposing ratios improves patient care.

Carol Gilhooley, an executive of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, told the subcommittee that no formula for nurse staffing "can be applied universally."

"Staffing is more than just numbers," she said, explaining that other factors include the skills and competency of the staff and the severity of patients' health problems.

Nurses from southern Nevada told the subcommittee said that establishing nursing-patient ratios could help ease a state nursing shortage. They added ratios would increase the quality of patient care and prompt nurses to remain in the profession instead of leaving.

Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, who's a physician, said that to lessen the state's shortage of nurses "we can't do any one thing. We have to do a lot of things. A single solution doesn't exist."

One step the 2003 Legislature took was to approve a plan to double the number of nursing students in state colleges. Lawmakers want to see 1,326 nursing students enrolled by the end of the next fiscal year.

A Health and Human Services report based on numbers from 2000 said Nevada had 520 employed nurses per 100,000 population, far below the national average of 782.